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Where were you on 9/11? Our readers share their memories
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Where were you on 9/11? Our readers share their memories

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I was at a power plant in Canada

I’m President of Auburn Engineers, Inc., an international consulting engineering company. We had a large contract with Ontario Power and 9/11 was our first day on the job. I was reviewing the operations of Sir Adam Beck power plant at Niagara Falls, Canada, one of the largest in the world. I had a new employee with me that day, a Canadian, Stephen, who eventually moved to Auburn and still lives here, and although he is no longer an employee he remains a good friend. We took a short mid-morning break and went to the control room. Astounded, I noticed a city on fire showing on their control room monitors, and I thought “Gee, the Canadians get to watch thriller movies on their shift.” I could not have been more wrong! They quickly explained that terrorists had attacked the U.S., and New York City was on fire. The power plant is directly under the Peace Bridge between the U.S. and Canada. I remember that every time I was outside, there was no movement on a bridge that normally carries hundreds and thousands of vehicles. No movement at all, all day long. It was a stunning visual that the US was shut down — everything was at a standstill!

I, along with Stephen, spent the next several days on the project and when I dropped Stephen off at the Toronto airport, there was no traffic anywhere. But as I stopped by the curb, I was immediately surrounded by three police vehicles, with weapons drawn. Of course, we explained our business, and Stephen walked into an empty airport (imagine Hartsfield with no one there) and boarded a mostly empty plane flying to an adjacent province. I was escorted from the airport and was fortunate to find a hotel room where I stayed until I was able to once again fly into the United States of America — what joy that was!

I will never forget.

David Alexander

I was preparing for a Model U.N. simulation on terrorism

I sat in the library at Centennial High School in Roswell, Ga., as a senior doing research for a class debate. Ironically, the course was “International Affairs,” and we were preparing for a Model United Nations simulation on terrorism and the Middle East. A student tardy for class bounded in announcing someone had flown a plane into the Twin Towers. The librarian wheeled a TV cart in and we watched the initial coverage, which reflected a sense of unknown regarding events unfolding. During second period, the true horrors of the day revealed themselves as we sat in our desks motionless absorbing the chaos being televised. The rumors and “what ifs” reported ushered unimaginable anarchy into our minds and hallway discussion. This led the principal to announcing a TV, computer and radio silence for the remainder of the school day – an action that only further diminished any attempt at real learning that day. Our teachers stood in front of classes with an absence of words or updates, a sense of helplessness or inability to meet our needs during the launching of an unknown new era. With extracurriculars cancelled, I journeyed home to find my mother and sister having departed for a church prayer service and my father stranded on a business trip. An envelope, cake and balloons sat on the kitchen table – my acceptance letter to Auburn University. What would have been on any other day a joyous gift now sat distantly on the table as I pondered anxiously what happens even tomorrow.

W. Blake Busbin

I was on top of the Zugspitze

My husband, daughter, son-in-law and I were on top of the Zugspitze in Germany. We did not know what happened until late that night when our daughter and son-in-law woke us up to tell us that on German TV they were showing something horrible happening in New York. When I turned on our room’s television and was able to read the toll on firefighters, I knew it was a disastrous event. Then we saw the replaying of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. It was a somber morning at breakfast in the hotel dining room. When we went to Mainz, there was a mountain of flowers in sympathy with the U.S. at the front of the cathedral.

Carolyn Hunter

I was in London

In January 2000, my husband, a German national, and I moved from Switzerland to London to begin my job with GlaxoSmithKline. On Sept 11, 2001, I was in a meeting at the Jacobs Engineering office in Croydon. Mid-afternoon the admin assistant called out the VP we were meeting. He returned and told us a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We all crowded around the assistant’s computer and could see the damage and fire on CNN, and then the site crashed. I returned home in NW London that evening via train and bus and tried to buy an Evening Standard newspaper; there were none to be had. From then onward for months, anyone hearing my American accent felt compelled to ask whether I’d lost anyone close to me or knew anyone who had died. Thankfully, I had not.

The following Saturday evening, we had tickets to the “Last Night of the Proms” at the Royal Albert Hall. We went, but I admit being afraid of being in a large crowd in such an iconic venue. Usually a raucous event, with foot stomping and flag waving, for the first time ever London Symphony changed the program to be more somber. Respect was paid to the American people by playing “The Star Spangled Banner” and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” To this day, every time I hear the Adagio, I am transported back to 9/11 and the ensuing days … tears come. I didn’t experience the change in America after 9/11 – the return of community, purpose, etc. – and feel like I missed something momentous. I did, though, experience the caring and friendship of the British people for us “Yanks.”

Melissa Herkt

I was at Foy Student Union

I was in my office on the campus of Auburn University, where I served at the time as the Director of Foy Student Union and Student Activities. In those days, Foy Union was a major hub of student activity. Someone came into my office and said, “Dr. Shaw, I think you should come out to the lobby,” which I did, just a few steps away. I saw about 10 students glued to the large TV set. They were watching a tall skyscraper burn, and the announcer was relaying his confusion but knew that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in NYC. As we watched, the second plane hit the other tower. By this time, the crowd had grown into at least 100 people, and you could hear a pin drop. It grew larger as the day went on. This was before everyone had cell phones with internet capabilities, so a television was the primary means of communicating this event. As I watched the quiet, helpless faces of Auburn students, and tears on many, I knew that their lives were changing before my eyes, and they would remember this day for the rest of their lives. As have I.

Debbie Shaw

I was at a church breakfast

My husband and I were enjoying our monthly breakfast with Parkway Baptist Seniors at the AU Hotel & Conference Center. We were in a private room with 15-20 others when our waitress came in and excitedly said, “Let’s turn on your TV; something terrible has happened.”

At that time one tower had been hit, and we watched in horror as the other one came down. Prayers were lifted up and each of us went to our respective homes to continue to watch this tragedy unfold.

Virginia Taylor

I was driving to the airport

Sue and I were driving from Atlanta to the Birmingham Airport, planning to fly Southwest to Portland, Ore., when our son called to tell us that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. We were listening to NPR who had not picked up the story. We switched to WSB who were reporting that news. Scott Slade, who was a private pilot, was reporting when the second plane hit the WTC. When he learned of the scheduled destinations of those two planes, he said, “Those sons of bitches have picked planes with the biggest fuel loads.” Needless to say, we did not get to fly that day.

Julian Whitten

I was in my office in the Pentagon

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in my office preparing for another day, listening to the TV news in the background when there was a special report, Tower One was burning. I called my wife and asked her to turn on the TV, then went to my deputy and asked him to bring everyone to my office. At the time only I had a TV, not how things are now in the Pentagon. Our offices and cubicles were on the first floor of the Pentagon, E-ring, near what is known as the River Entrance. There were about 30 people, civilian and military in the Defense Foreign Liaison Office part of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). As everyone filed in, Tower Two was hit. While we were all shocked and stunned, I turned to my deputy and we started counting heads. We both thought that there would be a precautionary evacuation of the Pentagon and we needed to account for everyone. Shortly after, the alarm sounded and we made an orderly evacuation across the River Entrance bridge to a planned assembly point. It was then, as we crossed the bridge moving toward the Pentagon Athletic Club, that looking back over our shoulders we saw the smoke rising from the attack.

We had no idea that the Pentagon had been attacked until that moment. There had been no noise, no vibrations, no hint of a jet striking the building, thanks to the design and solid concrete construction of the Pentagon. As we gathered our team together, we tried to figure out what to do next. Cell phones failed and most communication was word of mouth. We were told to remain in place, not try to assist with the rescue. So we did what you do in the military sometimes, hurry up and wait. And wait and wait. About 2 p.m., the 3,000 or so folks on the river side of the Pentagon were released, told to go home and then check the next day on requirements.

After a walk about a mile to Crystal City I could catch a subway train home. When I could call my wife while on the subway she was relieved but she had known where my office was and what I was doing at the time of the attack. She came and picked me up at the subway station and took me home where I started calling my daughters and family. The memory is always there but at the time it was not frightening or traumatic, it was stunning. Our world had changed and would never be the same.

Ret. Col. James R. McDonald

I had just returned from a trip to NYC

On Aug. 11, 2001, my family of four including my husband and 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter visited New York City for the day. We were vacationing in rural upstate New York and although we had not planned a trip to the city, when my husband learned round trip train rides to Grand Central Terminal were available for the day – well, we had to go.

We boarded early on a beautiful day and our train followed the Hudson River into New York City. We had just a few hours before our return trip, so our time was short. Since both Scott and I had previously been to the World Trade Center, we opted to visit the Empire State Building and take a tourist cruise on the Hudson River. With little time left over, we then took a quick trip to Battery Park because we wanted our kids to be able to look out over the harbor at the Statue of Liberty. The Battery, as the park is now called, also had an incredible view of the World Trade Center.

My son Bill looked up wistfully at the Trade Center towers and said, “Mom, can we please, please go up?”

“Sorry, sweetie. We’ve got a train to catch,” I answered. “But don’t worry. We’ll be back.”

Exactly one month later…

Patricia Vick Moody

I was on a Danube River cruise

In September, 2001, my husband Laurence and I and about 160 other passengers were on a European river cruise on the Danube. On the morning of the 11th we went by coach to sightsee in Bavaria. When we returned to the ship that afternoon, we noticed the crew standing silently at attention instead of calling out their usual cheerful greetings, and as we came aboard we were told the unthinkable: “America is being attacked! Go to your cabins and turn on the TV.” We did, and watched the tragedy unfold. We were quiet that evening, suppressing our anguish for our country and families and the couple desperately seeking information about their daughter in New York. We wondered if and when we would be able to come home, and we were grateful for the visit of a local priest, whose reading of Psalm 23 was almost as comforting in a foreign language as it would have been in English. In the days following, the many beautiful public memorials and the consistent compassion and kindness extended to us by Europeans helped soften the harsh reality that life would now be different in some ways. Although travel had been severely restricted due to the events of 9/11, we were able to fly home from Antwerp as planned, and the big international airport, normally filled with thousands of people but almost empty that day, served as a reminder that nothing would be quite the same again.

Julia Morgan

I could see 9/11 from my hotel

I was staying in Manhattan at a hotel on Lexington Avenue.

I woke up Tuesday morning about 9 a.m. and come downstairs to the lobby and I see everybody in the lobby crying. “You haven’t heard?” they asked. “Heard what?” I said. They said a plane had turned into one of the towers so I’m thinking a cub plane, right? Why are they so upset?

I stepped outside. And down the street I could see it was really bad and I went back inside and turned the TV on in the lobby and watched it there. And I kept running back and forth from the inside to the outside and I tell you when I really got scared was when the towers collapsed, and then all that dust and smoke, it came and I could just see it come down toward where I was. Everybody ran inside and closed all the doors and windows until it had all passed.

I tell you what the scary part was: I could see people jumping out of the window. Man, that was the worst thing. Oh, my Lord.

Through the year you really don’t think about it, but every time 9/11 comes around and people start talking about it, it comes back. Every year in September all those bad memories and people jumping out of the window comes to mind.

Larry Carter

I was at the Capitol

Having retired from Auburn University three years prior, I was the Vice President for Research and Economic Development at West Virginia University. I flew to Washington, D.C., for a 10 a.m. meeting with the senior senator Robert C. Byrd from West Virginia on Sept. 11. I was to meet with the university president in a Byrd staffer’s office at the Capitol Building prior to the meeting.   

When I arrived, the staffer was watching the events unfold in New York on a small TV on her desk.  Soon after I arrived, her office mate called to say she was in a traffic jam and witnessed a plane crashing into the Pentagon. The staffer quickly described to me what she just had heard and went to tell Senator Byrd. 

I watched the continuing coverage of the events in New York for a few minutes on her TV.  When I saw that the second plane had hit the WTC it occurred to me that I should get out of the building.  Security was beginning to clear the building, so I was ushered out along with tourists and legislative staffers and members. No one knew exactly what was going on but word about the New York events was spreading rapidly.   

It was like a fire drill as people began to accumulate outside the Capitol building, but the seriousness of the situation quickly became apparent as knowledge of the events in New York and the Pentagon became more widely known and the tense atmosphere was elevated as we began to hear the sounds of fighter jets flying overhead at low altitude and sirens of various police and security vehicles speeding around every corner. The black cloud arising above the Pentagon probably became visible to some.  The security guards kept pushing the crowd further away from the Capitol Building. There was no apparent security plan for the senators and congressman. For a brief period, Senator Byrd was standing among the crowd surrounded by reporters. I stayed near them to see if I could pick up any additional information, but things were happening so fast there was no reason for the Senator to know any more than anyone else. 

As they pushed us further back, the security guards were telling us that there was another plane in the air and that it was headed for the Capitol Building. I tried to call my wife and the university president, but the cell phone lines were overloaded, and I could not get through to either of them.  I learned later that the president had arrived by limo to the Capitol Building grounds just as the evacuation was occurring, but I did not know this and was unable to link up with him. He was to be my ride back to Morgantown.

All means of transportation were shut down – airlines, Metro, and rental cars were not available.  I walked back to the hotel and checked in. On the way back to the hotel I could see the black cloud from the Pentagon.  An employee of the hotel had a limo service that I had used before so I asked if he would drive me to my home in West Virginia.  He agreed to take me for $350.  We first drove to his home in Maryland so he could change cars.  He was a foreign national and not familiar with the difference between West Virginia and Virginia, so it was a longer trip to Morgantown (210 miles) than he expected.  When we arrived at my house, I gave him $400 and thanked him. 

I was thankful to be home and out of Washington D.C.

John Weete

 

I was playing golf

I was on the golf course when I heard the news, playing on a lovely course southwest of Houston with my ladies golf group. My foursome was on the first fairway when a cell phone rang. My playing partner Susan answered. Her daughter was in tears, frantic with worry about friends who lived in New York City. She said an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center building in New York.

We were shocked! What could be happening? Was this a horrible accident? After the ninth hole, we went into the clubhouse for a snack and saw the TV news reports. Jets had crashed into each of the two World Trade Center Towers. Another jet had crashed into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania. This was no accident. Our country had been attacked. As we played the back nine, I wondered what this meant. Was our country at war?

I arrived home carrying a McDonald’s lunch and found my husband Carl watching TV. Over and over we watched the video of the planes crashing into the two towers. It seemed unreal. When the local news reported that fighter jets were patrolling the airspace over Houston, I couldn’t help but look out the window and up at the sky.

Carl leased office space, and he guessed that over 20,000 people worked in the two towers. It seemed like a miracle when we learned later that the final death toll was less than 3,000.

Betty Corbin

 

I was in Washington, D.C.

Sept. 11, 2001, began routinely in my northern Virginia home. After hustling my 13-year old son to school, I arrived at my Washington, D.C., office after commuting by bus and then a metro train from the Pentagon. Around 9:30 a.m. a colleague told me a plane had hit the Twin Towers in NYC.  Soon we learned a second plane had flown into the Pentagon, turning office chatter from accidents to terrorist attacks. Employees were dismissed from work and told to listen to the news regarding reopening of Federal Government offices. Cell phone towers were overwhelmed but I was able to contact my husband (whose office was near Dulles Airport), to discuss how to get our family home safely. The Pentagon metro station and bus stops were no longer operational, and we were unsure if other busses and trains were available. The main roads were nearly impassable due to emergency vehicles coming from every direction, and commuters trying to get home. 

The streets in D.C. were filled with people escaping the city fearing further attacks.  Women walked in their bare feet, carrying their high heels. Everyone was trying to make a phone call, with little success. The metro station nearest my office was open and very crowded. Several trains passed through the station before a co-worker and I pushed ourselves aboard. In spite of the crowds, passengers shoved closer to make room for others. There was little conversation; shock and fear showed on each face. 

Thankfully, my family and I arrived home safely.  Within days we had the never-to-be-forgotten experience of looking at the gaping hole in the west side of the Pentagon.  A beautifully serene memorial was later erected near the site of the impact, and along with the 9/11 Memorial in NYC, should be visited by every American. The events of that tragic day made me realize a seemingly "routine" day can quickly change and turn your world upside down. I felt a renewed appreciation for the kindness and resilience of my fellow Americans. And, I was once again reminded that "heroes" who are willing to sacrifice their own lives to save that of others still live among us.

Judy H. Hampton

 

I was starting my shift as a firefighter

I currently live in Opelika but I was a professional firefighter with Mobile, Ala., Fire/Rescue at the time of the attacks. My crews had just arrived at 0700 that morning for our shift at Melton Station and at the time had no idea how our day would unfold. Little did we know that within the first hour of our shift all 10 of us would be gathered around two televisions watching in disbelief as the planes attacked the Twin Towers. At first we all thought it to be an accident of an aircraft losing control. Within minutes we realized that it was no fluke as both towers were intentionally attacked by the Islamic extremists group Al-Qaeda. Sadly, then came the crash in Pennsylvania and the attack on the Pentagon. As first responders we were in total shock as that day unfolded and we learned in time that we had lost 343 of our brothers. That day will be forever embedded in our memory at the loss of our beloved fallen brothers who made that ultimate sacrifice. That figure only tells of firefighters lost and doesn’t include of the hundreds of police officers, NY Port Authority Police, and countless innocent civilians. Sad day in our history!

Dale Broome

I was worried about my brother

I was 25 and a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga as a Physical Therapist. I had just started working at an inpatient rehab facility in Johnson City, Tenn. I was beyond excited. 

I loved New York. My relatives had lived in Alexandria, Va. We enjoyed the museums, art, history, and all things big city. So, naturally that means enjoying visiting the Big Apple. 

My brother was about to move from Alabama to Staten Island, N.Y., to take a job at the zoo as a herpetologist, and he is now known as @reptileMatt to those who listen to the Elvis Duran show.  He moved Sept. 1, 2001. 

We were both just starting our dream careers as young twentysomethings. Ready to start doing what we had dreamed of. We are close. Our family’s close. Military background, proud Americans who never had seen anything dark in our country’s history for ourselves. We’d only heard of war stories from our grandfathers, and Vietnam stories from my mom and dad, who served our country there.

Early morning of 9/11, I worked the 7:30 to 3:30 shift at the rehab hospital. I was in the first patient’s room for the morning when I heard a commotion out in the hallway. My first thought was, it must be a birthday for one of our staff or patients. Then the patient I was just getting started seeing got a phone call to her room. I usually ask patients to answer, but tell family members to call them back as their therapy time was about to start. However, I was curious to the ruckus in the hall, so as she started to get the phone, I gave her a large smile and a thumbs up.

I stepped into the hallway and I saw staff members at the nurses station with pale, blank looks on their face as they are looking at the TV screen in the corner of the unit. I turned to see the TV and I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at. No one watching was talking. It was like we were all frozen in time. Glued with disbelief to the small screen that was showing us in real time what was happening. We were listening and reading the headline below as we were trying to absorb and take in what was happening. 

We are the people who deal with those who are involved in accidents and tragedy. We are the workers who encourage our patients to move forward and give them strategies and tools to start to put their lives back together stronger, better, no matter what has changed, to look ahead with grit and determination. But, at that moment we felt vulnerable. Watching, we became part of that tragedy. What was happening? Life was occurring and we as healthcare workers stopped and became part of the story too. After the first plane hit and commentators were explaining they didn’t think it was an accident, I ran back to my patient’s room and saw her holding the phone, crying, watching the news from her wheelchair, talking to her daughter. I hugged her and watched the second plane hit. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. So many questions went through my mind. Why? Who? What’s next? I was crying, but I was the healthcare worker. I was supposed to be strong, was I supposed to stop and watch this? Was I supposed to be there with my co-workers or my patients?

My mind raced to my family. Do my parents know? Then my heart skipped. My brother. He had just moved to Staten Island 10 days ago. He wasn’t supposed to start his job until the next week. He was sightseeing and was going to be “playing in the Big Apple” until he started his job. Where was he? 

I ran to my boss who was with several of my colleagues huddled together. I told her I had to call my parents and then my brother. She just shook her head yes. I went to my office. No cell phone then. I called my mom in Bristol, Tenn. She answered and we chatted only for a few minutes. She said she had tried to call Matt, but no answer. I couldn’t believe it. I whispered a prayer as we hung up that he was nowhere near Manhattan. 

A couple hours later, a call from my mom saying he was at his apartment on Staten Island. He learned of the news and was taking pictures of the tragedy we were all watching unfold as a country.  After a few hours, we all went back to work somberly, many crying, many joining our patients in hugging and talking. Not much therapy went on that day except emotional support. Patient and therapist were leveled to a certain degree.

I will never forget 9/11/2001.  I will never forget.

Laura Smith

 

I was sitting on an airplane

I was a United Airlines pilot living in Atlanta. That morning I was sitting in the first-class cabin of a United flight on my way to Seattle for annual Line Check Pilot training. Instead of being in a company classroom, Boeing was hosting us and we were to tour the Boeing 737 production line (the airplane to which we were all assigned) and have dinner on a boat cruising Puget Sound in addition to our required training. The last person to board said to the flight attendant, a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I remarked to my seatmate that weather there was clear with good visibility. Didn't make sense, but we were soon pushed from the gate with engines running when the captain said there was an indefinite delay and we would return to the gate. I gathered with the flight crews there downstairs around the one company TV to see the video of the planes hitting. We were all beyond shocked. We didn't know that United aircraft and crews were involved yet. Eventually I made my way home and sometime, while glued to the television that evening with my wife, one of us remarked that this was the end of life as we knew it. My disappointment at missing my Seattle stay and the descent of my airline from thriving and growing to shrinking and struggling with an eventual bankruptcy reorganization pales in comparison to the loss of almost 3,000 lives and the turmoil to those families and their friends.  

It is one of those days seared in our minds like, for me, Kennedy's assassination, the moon landing, and the shuttle explosions. Probably compares to the memory of Pearl Harbor for those still living that can remember it.

Ron Mussig

I was wondering why the airport was closed

Bob and I were in San Francisco and were staying at a small hotel.  When we went down to go to breakfast there was a big sign at the reception desk: "All Airports Closed." The whole town was a ghost town. The Golden Gate Bridge was closed and people were warned to stay away from that area. Around noon we went to church for mass. A few days later American Airlines flew a U.S. flag around the world. We flew home on the leg from California to Atlanta, although we did not know this until we were in flight. Our flight was met by reporters and TV cameras. There was a small service at the gate for the crew. Before leaving California I had tried to talk Bob into renting a car and driving home. I was glad he talked me into taking the flight.  

Linda Fucci

 

I was teaching elementary P.E.

The morning of 9/11, I was teaching physical education outside at Avocado Elementary School in Homestead, Fla. I saw the media specialist headed our way, which was unusual for someone to walk out to the field; they usually called on the radio. She explained that a plane had crashed into a building in NYC. I really did not understand the significance of what she said. She returned shortly after with additional information about the other attacks. I was instructed to bring the students inside. Parents were racing to come pick up their children. We were unable to leave school to get our own children until all of the students were picked up. One of my children was with me, one at daycare and one at another school. It was a strange, uneasy feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next. There was much concern as Homestead Air Base was nearby and many of our students were military. It is something I never want to again experience.

Deb McDonald

 

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